CHICAGO, IL - JANUARY 05: of the Chicago Blackhawks of the Dallas Stars at the United Center on January 5, 2011 in Chicago, Illinois. The Stars defeated the Blackhawks 4-2. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
No question that the Dallas Stars have been the surprise of the Western Conference. However, one has to wonder if that bubble is beginning to burst. Since the All-Star Break, the Stars have been getting their teeth kicked in, sometimes literally.
They've lost four in a row, highlighted by the Appomattox that was their game in Boston. Three fights in the first four seconds, four in the first minute and a half, and the Stars lost them all. And they got injured in every one. Adam Burish broke his face, as did Krys Barch. Jamie Benn, one of their all-important Top 6, also is out, as is depth defenseman Marc Fistric.
While Dallas' Top 6 forwards are as impressive as any you'll find in the league, the bottom half always was a little iffy. Now that it's taking its hits, they can't keep up and are getting found out.
On the surface, it may look like goalie Kari Lehtonen is coming back to Earth too. He's surrendered three goals in his last three appearances (one in relief) and four in the one before that. But he hasn't been awful, he's just seeing more rubber than before and isn't pulling the Stars out of the fire. As we said both times these two teams met, this defense is simply uninspiring, and now that the games have become more meaningful and they're seeing everyone's best effort, they're gasping for air.
Further complicating things for Dallas is their special teams. They've gone in the toilet. They're 1 for their last 22 on the power play, and with the ammo they have on it, that's pretty astonishing. They gave up two power play goals in their last game with Phoenix, which isn't exactly easy to do. In fact, with the whole Pacific Division competing for a playoff spot, and the Sharks having just usurped the Stars on a tiebreaker for the division lead, it's very ugly for the Stars right now. They're only five points away from being out of the playoff picture completely.
But that doesn't mean tonight won't be tricky.
Dallas is very good at home (2nd best record in the West), and the game should be buzzing with traveling Hawks fans assuring a sellout and the return of Marty Turco providing even more ampage. The Stars will be just as desperate as the Hawks, hoping to snap out of their skid. The Hawks will have to be better than they were against Edmonton, but grabbing an early lead could start a whole "here we go again" phase between the Stars' ears.